“There’s something a little weird about Chuck today.”
“What?” Stan said, turning toward Howard. “Is now really the best time for this?”
Howard shifted the pistol in his hand, careful not to point it away from the bank teller on his knees ahead of him.
“I guess not,” he said. He could probably wait till later to discuss. It was just that, ever since they left the hideout the morning and made their way to the bank, something about Chuck just seemed off. Maybe it was weird body-sized bag he’d seen outside the safe house, or the new, massive, black car Chuck had followed them to the bank in—rather than joining them in the same vehicle, as was planned—or the way he seemed not to remember anything at all about the plan. Whatever the case, it just felt weird. Stan was right, though, it wasn’t the correct time. They’d figure it out later.
“Go check on where Chuck’s at with the safe.” Stan pointed his own pistol at the man on the ground, pushing Howard’s out of the way. That was his job, Howard’s role. He was supposed to be the gun man, the special hostage handler. That was all he was supposed to do, Stan had specifically given that to him. They’d went over it so many damn times. Chuck was the safe guy, he was there to crack it open. Stan was the talker, the one in charge of keeping everyone calm and quiet. Now suddenly Stan was the talker and the gun guy? It wasn’t fair.
“I thought I was the hostage guy,” Howard said, trying his best not to cry, his gun no longer pointed at the back of the teller’s head.
“You are, champ, and you’re doing a great job,” Stan said. “Right now, though, I need you to quickly take a break and make sure everything’s going smoothly over at the safe. Think of it as getting to do a second job. When you finish it, you can come right back to kicking butt as the hostage handler.”
“Okay,” Howard said with a smile. It was his first bank heist, yet already he was being promoted to safe-guy-checker. He was surprised at how well he was apparently doing—he always expected so little from himself, he’d forgotten what it felt like to feel proud.
Howard turned and walked behind the counter, several pairs of fearful eyes watching him as he made his way toward the massive, metal safe around the corner. Chuck stood in front of it, hand raised to his pointed ear, mouth moving quietly as if he were speaking to someone.
“Everything all right back here?” Howard said.
“What?” Chuck said, turning toward Howard and immediately dropping his hand to his side. He sounded different. His voice was usually much higher. Yet now it was deep and rugged, almost frighteningly so.
“Any progress with the safe?”
“Safe?” Chuck said. He turned around and stared at the enormous, metal safe. “Oh, uh, no. Nothing yet. Still working on it.”
“How about an ETA?” Howard said. He didn’t remember Chuck being so tall when they’d left the hideout. He was pretty sure he was usually a few inches shorter than himself, yet now he stood well over six feet. He also seemed much more muscular than usual, his black armor forming the outline of a very well-developed upper body. He made a mental note to ask him what workout program he’d been following that produced such amazing results in just a few hours.
“Maybe five minutes,” Chuck said. The mask on his head covered all but his mouth and jaw, two tall, pointed ears sticking out of the top. A long black cape cascaded down from his shoulders, concealing his back.
“Great,” Howard said, turning back toward the front of the bank and then stopping. Something just didn’t feel right. He turned back around. “Hey, Chuck, can I ask you a question?” Chuck was staring at the safe, his hand back up at his ear. He didn’t seem to have heard him.
“Chuck,” Howard repeated. He remained still, hand by his ear, mouth moving slowly and deliberately. “Chuck? Hello?” Chuck turned around.
“What? Oh, me? Sorry, I was—uh—day dreaming. You know, about all this great cash we’re going to get.” He adjusted his belt, the dozens of small pouches attached to it jingling as they shifted. They were probably to hold all the tools he would need to crack the safe—there was no way Howard wanted that job. It seemed too confusing. He did, however, want Chuck’s yellow and black belt buckle, which had what appeared to be some sort of bat-like figure printed onto it. Chuck always had a great fashion sense, or at least he did as of today.
“You and I both, man,” Howard said, smiling. He would probably buy a boat with his share. He’d never before owned a boat—although he had once crashed a car into a lake—but it definitely seemed like a great purchase. He’d probably use it to sail to Europe and meet a fine, Australian woman. “Anyway, I was just wondering if everything was okay with you.”
“What do you mean?” Chuck said.
“I don’t know, you just seem a little different. I wanted to make sure you were doing all right. I know it’s been hard since Mary left you. It’s great that you’re working out now—seriously, you look fantastic—and I’m glad you grew a lot taller this morning, but you know that I’ll always be there for you.”
“Thanks, Stan, I appreciate that,” Chuck said.
“What? No, I’m Howard,” he said. Chuck froze, his eyes locked on Howard’s, hand slowly moving toward his over-crowded belt. “Anyway, I better head back to Stan and make sure he’s doing well with hostage control. Let me know if you need anything.”
Chuck slowly shook his head and turned back toward the safe, hand again returning to his ear. Howard slowly made his way back over to Stan, who was shouting something comforting to the several people lying face-down in the lobby.
“Hey, Kiddo,” Stan said, turning to greet Howard. “How’d it go?”
“Excellent,” Howard said with a grin. “Chuck said it would take about five more minutes, but he was pretty pre-occupied with some sort of radio call. He also grew a lot taller—did you notice that? Honestly, the height looks great on him.”
“What?” Stan said, one eyebrow raised.
“Nothing, just—you know—he looks a lot better. More muscular, solid jaw line, few inches taller, no more fat. It looks good.”
“The hell?” Stan said, raising to his feet. “What are you saying?”
“I don’t know, I just think he looks good now. That’s all.”
Stan stared at Howard, his eyes wide. “Taller? More muscular? Are you gay or something?”
“What? No, definitely not. I meant to say ‘no homo’ afterwards.”
“Oh,” Stan said, relaxing his shoulders and kneeling back down before returning his pistol to the temple of the hostage in front of him. “Okay.”
“One other thing,” Howard said. He had noticed something a little irregular about Chuck, and he knew he shouldn’t even bother bringing it up. Still, he realized he’d probably forget if he didn’t. “Chuck was wearing a bat suit,” Howard said. “Do you know where I can get one?”
“A bat suit?” Stan whispered, eyes wide as he slowly rose to his feet. He paused, lifting his gun and pointing it toward the corner that lead to the safe room. “Spiderman.”
“Fucking retards,” echoed Chuck’s deep, almost Christian Bale-like voice from the shadows above, followed immediately by the impact of his fist into Howard’s face.